Tag Archives: United Opt Out

The Power of Opting Out

There is always a choice.

There is always a choice.

This piece was originally written for Schoolbook who did not see fit to pick it up. Why let it go to waste? 

Opting out is becoming a form of educational civil disobedience.

Certain school districts in upstate New York are starting to opt out of the new teacher evaluation system mandated by Race to the Top. A group of courageous parents in Washington Heights recently opted their children out of a standardized exam that was being given for no other reason than to evaluate their teachers. A nationwide opt out movement has been afoot for some time as a response to the testing mania that has accompanied the current wave of education reform.

Opting out is empowering because it shows the rest of us, whether we are parents, students or educators, that we still have choices in an era of so much top-down control of our education system.

Teachers should take heart from these examples. I teach history in a solid public high school with wonderful students. The new Race to the Top evaluations are subjecting my students to more testing than ever before. It breaks my heart to see them spending so much time filling in bubbles when they can be in a classroom engaged in actual learning.

As teachers, our ratings and livelihoods hinge upon how our students fair on these exams. On top of this, our administrators have to observe our teaching more than they ever have before. Many of my colleagues have been scrambling to bring their teaching in line with the new evaluation regime. For my part, I have decided to opt out.

Sure, I cannot prevent my administrators from walking into my classroom to observe me. I cannot prevent my students from wasting their time taking exams. But I can prevent myself from scrambling to conform with a system that I know for a fact to be odious and destructive.

Teaching is the only career I have ever had. All of my teaching years, 14 to be exact, have been spent in New York City’s Department of Education. My methods have been informed by the veteran teachers who took the time to mentor me when I was green. My style has been shaped by the countless students who have let me know, one way or another, what works and what does not work. If not for my colleagues and my students, I would not be the teacher that I am today.

This is why I have decided to make no compromises with the new evaluation regime. I will not allow the regime to change a single thing I do as a teacher. I owe it to my colleagues to opt out in this way in order to give them hope that we do not have to give ourselves over to this new system. I owe it to my students to shield them, as much as possible, from the odious effects of this so-called “reform”.

This does not mean that I will not take risks with new materials, assessments or approaches to teaching. It is quite the opposite. A good teacher modifies and refines their style all of the time. What it does mean is that the changes I make will in no way be informed by the new system. Instead, I will continue to listen to my colleagues and students the way I have been doing for the past 14 years. This is what opting out means to me.

Bureaucracies, especially one as unwieldy as the Department of Education, have a tendency to make us feel as if we do not have choices in what we do. There are always choices. Sure, all of us have to make certain compromises in order to get along in the system. I have made the decision to make as few compromises as possible when it comes to the quality of education my students receive. This new system requires too many unacceptable compromises of me. Therefore, I will merely opt out of this system by pretending it does not exist in my classroom.

If this results in me being rated “ineffective” then so be it. At least I can sleep at night knowing I did right by the students I serve.

Cuomo Wastes More Taxpayer Money

From Edweek:

Want to see if New York state school districts are literally checking the right boxes on new teacher evaluations? The Empire State has you covered.

The website, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, allows parents and others to follow the progress of districts in hashing out the new evaluations, in the wake of the Feb. 16 agreement on the basic shape of those evaluations between the state education department and the state teachers union, New York State United Teachers.

At the NY Students First site, you can click on a link to “Track Your School District’s Progress,” which takes you to a map of New York by county that resembles a teacher’s chalkboard. Scrolling over a county brings up a box with each of the school districts in that county. If a district were to submit a new teacher evaluation plan to the state education department, a box would checked next to its name. If the plan were to be approved by the department, the district would get another check mark (this time in bright red).

The website, which you can see here, promises that you can “track your schools district’s progress” towards agreeing to a new evaluation.

It only tells you that a district has come up with a plan, it does not tell you what the plan is. In other words, parents who care about how an evaluation will change the face of their children’s education will find this site less than useless.

So why have the site at all? The article continues:

“I hope the countless parents and advocates who have been demanding accountability in our schools will use http://www.nystudentsfirst.com to get involved in our efforts to put students first and reform our education system,” Cuomo said in a March 6 statement announcing the site.

The online effort represents Cuomo’s eagerness to use parental and other community pressure to ensure districts get evaluations done that are agreed to by local teachers unions and given the seal of approval by State Education Commissioner John B. King.

In other words, more shaming of the teacher’s unions. It is to get parents to pressure “districts” to come up with a plan, giving the districts the ability to apply that public pressure to the unions so that they will accept something less than fair.

The longer a box remains unchecked, the more likely that the “union” will be seen as a barrier to “progress”. It is a gross oversimplification of what promises to be very complex negotiations.

The political hokum continues:

NY Students First has a chart, replete with more check marks, that allows viewers to compare the state’s overhaul efforts on teacher evaluations with those in other states, including the use of student achievement data. It also saves some space for political rhetoric.

A statement on the main page reads in part, “Our system has suffered because Albany has spent more time worrying about the business of education—contracts, salaries, and benefits—than they have worrying about the children.”

And those comparisons between NY’s evaluations and those of other states? You guessed it, more simplistic check boxes.

Parents in the know are aware that these new evaluations have nothing to do with students. As a new NY State parent opt-out site puts it:

Millions of our tax dollars go to the Pearson Corporation to develop the entire assessment program for NYS.  Pearson also sells our schools the many workbooks and review books that your children use daily in school.  Look at the work your child brings home, you will most likely Pearson or McGraw-Hill stamped on the bottom. This corporate intrusion into our schools is draining scarce financial resources and is leading to cuts in the arts and larger class sizes.

Yes, “students first”, even after you shut 33 of their schools down in NYC. “Students first”, even though art, music and drama programs are being slashed in poor districts all over the state. “Students first”, even though the exams that students will be forced to take every single year have nothing to do with helping students learn, and everything to do with evaluating teachers.

I wonder how many enrichment programs were slashed so that Cuomo could pay for this useless website.



Reasons to Listen to the Radio

Tonight, Mind of a Bronx Teacher’s guest will be Peggy Robertson of United Opt Out National. The Opt Out movement has been gaining traction recently, especially with Race to the Top metastasizing across the country. Those of us who wish to guide the teacher unions down a more democratic path would be well served to make common cause with United Opt Out. It has the potential to be a powerful tool of civil disobedience.

Check here for how to tune in tonight’s show:

South Bronx School

Then, this coming Thursday (March 8, 2012), I will be a guest on the Mom Madness show at 3pm on Harlem Talk Radio. The discussion will revolve around the new teacher evaluations for New York State and how they might impact the parents of New York City. Arne Duncan was a guest recently, so I hope to balance out the propaganda he spouted about Race to the Top.

You can listen to Harlem Talk Radio online here:

Harlem Talk Radio